I’ve had two acceptances in the last few days, which has put me in a good mood. I’m now balanced on 50%, having had five out of my last ten submissions accepted. Last week it seemed like everything was sinking fast, with a small run of rejections but after a couple of acceptances it all looks a lot better. Such is the fragility of the writer’s ego.
Last week I was on the way out, and the frail bubble of my success was about to burst. Now I’m full of it, and full strength smugness is once again looming on the horizon.
At least I have ASDA to bring me back to earth. This week’s deliveries featured a number of items that I thought I had deleted from the order, and as a result I now have enough high fibre cereal to last until the New Year and enough ingredients to make ratatouille for a rugby team, though I’m not sure if rugby teams eat ratatouille.
Before you suggest it, the freezer is full, and has been crammed with all the extra bread that arrived.
It won’t pay off for them in the end, because I will cancel next week’s order and will do a small shop in person to buy the things we need, as we eat the last bits of this week’s order. Apart from ratatouille, my future is likely to feature quite a lot of vegetable soup.
We even got celeriac this week, after five unsuccessful attempts, which means I now have two, as I bought one on Tuesday.
One of my memories of 2020 is going to be the ups and downs of internet grocery shopping, mainly the downs, as it rarely fails to disappoint in some way. However, it does mean we don’t need to shop in a room full of coughing geriatrics and snotty kids, so it’s generally a good thing.
We had the standard soup using the bag of ready chopped veg and followed it up with a ham sandwich made using rye and sprouted grains. It was healthy and filling, though I will be adding a few stewed apples later just to top up.
I’m now blogging and watching Mastermind. I’m a bit slow tonight. I’ve often thought of applying for a TV quiz but never get round to it. This is partly because I’m lazy, but mainly because I doubt that my armchair brilliance would be repeated once I got to the studio.
It has now changed to Only Connect, as I am doing all sorts of things, apart from writing (in case you were thinking I was being slow. I’m not a great fan of the show as I don’t generally do well. However, it’s good mental exercise.
And even as I write that it ends and University Challenge starts. It’s a real quizzing fest tonight and I’m only getting away with it because Julia is distracted. Normally she puts her foot down and won’t let me watch three quizzes in a row. It’s a good night if I answer more than two or three questions. I’ve already answered three out of four, which is one more than the students. Could be a good night – sometimes I can watch a whole episode without even understanding a question. I’m now on six from eight. Things are looking up…
They are on chemistry questions now. I don’t even know what they are talking about.
Anyway, you don’t want a running commentary on me watching TV.
I just answered a chemistry question and am now doing badly at poetry. Just goes to show you never can tell.
I’m not honestly sure I have much to add. I went into two supermarkets today as I needed some specific things before we go into lockdown. In TESCO there were three staff without masks and the spotty teenager working as a greeter kept pulling down his mask to talk to people. At Sainsbury’s the greeter didn’t even have a mask. Two staff on the tills had no mask, a manager was working with her mask pulled down under her chin and the four teenagers at the Argos counter were clustered together chatting with no masks.
I have 28 minutes to post, and am going to give it my best shot. Please excuse the haste and the worse than normal editing.
Today’s main event, apart from a hospital phone call (which was a duplicate of the one I got yesterday) was the soup. We had half a dozen manky carrots, a medium sized parsnip and a swede (rutabaga) which was beginning to look a bit grey round the cut end. My solution – root veg soup.
This is a lockdown recipe, because with only shopping every week or ten days I’m not quite getting the supplies right and we needed to get through a few more roots.
I also had the green end of a leek, so I softened that and roasted the roots whilst cooking the tea last night. I then boiled it with stock and spices (2 tsp cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, half a tsp of lazy chilli from a jar) and left it covered overnight. No need for a fridge, we are having a cold spell here at the moment. We always do once we start putting plants outside.
Today I added some lazy garlic from a jar, a touch more chilli and reduced it to a smooth consistency with a stick blender. I tried to leave afew flecks of red, but they didn’t stand uput in the finished soup. Sometimes I use finely chopped red chillis – they stand out better.
The result was a nice beige soup with an interesting flavour and a touch of mild heat. I’m not sure that it needed the ground coriander, as I can never really taste it when I use stronger tasting spices.
Finally I added a spoonful of turmeric to brighten it up a bit. I’m not sure if the photos show it, but you get a slightly brighter orange/yellow soup when you do that.
Things I didn’t add – mushrooms and kale (despite kale being virtually compulsory in recipes these days. I thought mushrooms would be confusing, though they do need using soon, and I couldn’t be bothered to take the kale off the stalks (I didn’t want to spoil the consistency by putting stalks in. I was going to put kale in at the end rather than boil it with the rest of the veg.)
It made far more than we needed and we will be having it tomorrow too. And Friday. However, it’s good and cheap and you can have sandwiches with it so it helps dodge the salads.
Carrot, Parsnip and Swede Soup
Carrot, Parsnip and Swede Soup with Turmeric
The one on the left has no added colour, the one on the right has the turmeric added. The one in the header picture was taken with flash, which made it look a richer colour and wasn’t a fair comparison to the original beige.
The main feature of the day has been the succession of texts and phonecalls.
The first one, from an unknown number, was a bit of a worry as there is always a chance that it is bad news. Once I found out it wasn’t bad news I decided that it’s nice to know there are people out there, despite the isolation. Several of the calls have been people checking to make sure we have everything we need, which is comforting, though it does make me feel old.
I am now watching TV, blogging and breathing in the comforting scent of rhubarb crumble as it cools in the kitchen.
I am mentally preparing myself to cook tea. It’s not that cooking tea is difficult, but as I’m doing a roast it has to be at least as good as the one Julia made a couple of days ago. It’s the same meat, warmed up, but the trimmings all need doing and it won’t do to make a mess of things or she will mention it several times a day for the next week.
Rede Crested Pochard – Arnot Hill Park
We will be having carrots (because I have bought too many recently), parsnips, sprouts, broccoli and asparagus. We don’t usually have asparagus, but variety is good for us and I threw it in the basket without thinking about what it would go with.
That’s the problem with lockdown, you have to spend so much time planning your food. I was very well organised at one time but after moving to the city and being near a supermarket that was open 24 hours (apart from Sunday) I have let things slip. It has been hard getting them back in line and, with some groceries being short it has been tempting to put a little extra in the basket.
First, there is the menu for 7-10 days, then there is working out the shopping list, ensuring that things won’t go off and actually getting into a shop. At that point you have to hope you can get everything you need, make substitutions, and resist the temptation to add too many snacks. I think I may have covered that before, when talking about the cake and biscuits that found their way into my basket on Wednesday.
Julia is managing to keep her exercise routine up by gardening, working out and running on the spot. My regime of lifting the remote control, walking to the kettle and a little light typing, is not quite so healthy, though it seems to work for me. That’s why I need to cut down on snacks and resist the cake.
Tufted Duck – Arnot Hill Park
Tomorrow I am going to cook a pan of carrot soup. I really have bought too many carrots.
I’m also going to look at a recipe for Burnt Aubergine Chilli Number One Son sent me. It involves, as you may guess, burning an aubergine. Gas will do nicely, according to the recipe, and a barbecue will give it a nice smokey flavour. The recipe is strangely uninformative about the likely results using a garden flamethrower to do the charring. No doubt it will make for an interesting experiment for the middle of the week.
It’s about time to vary the menu. In fact, if the lockdown is extended for another couple of weeks, it is essential. Much more ratatouille and I’m likely to have a meltdown. We will be having it tomorrow (ratatouille, that is, not a meltdown), and I’m looking on it as a penance rather than a meal. Crumble, on the other hand, is always a pleasure. I will finish now as it’s time to eat.
The photo theme of the day is ducks.
They are interesting, cheerful, and they taste good.
So, you ask, how was the vegetable soup last night? You probably aren’t asking that, but I’m going to tell you anyway and it seems better if I pretend someone is interested.
Well, the vegetable soup, consisting of some festering ready-chopped carrot and swede, some greying carrots, a wrinkly parsnip, quite a lot of onion and some green bits from leeks, was excellent in parts. It was nutritious, tasty, sustaining, wholesome and almost additive free.
The additives came from a garlic and thyme flavour pot I threw in.
The parts that weren’t good came from the seasoning. It was, to say the least, a schoolboy error. It needs a bit of spice to give it a lift, I always feel, and I decided to test out the new jar of smoked paprika. I’ve only just started using it again, I never think of it as particularly hot and… you can already see where this is going can’t you?
A lesson I learned long ago is to test out each new jar of spice unless it’s one you’ve used before.
This one was quite a bit hotter than the previous one and despite attempts to cool it down with honey and extra dilution, it remained a little hotter than is usual for vegetable soup.
Despite this, the basic recipe was good and it used a lot of slightly manky veg.
Tonight we are having gammon, Hasselback potatoes and vegetables that are still to be decided. I’ve been meaning to do Hasselback potatoes for a while, and once I actually read the recipe I was amazed at how easy they are. They always look much more complicated when you see them served on TV.
This could be a case of “famous last words” because they are still in the oven.
Meanwhile, bubbling away on the hob we have a vegetable curry on the go for tomorrow. It’s onions, sweet potato, chickpeas, some chilli from a jar, garlic from a jar, curry powder and five ladles of spicy vegetable soup from yesterday, because it would be silly to waste it and if you have soup (or spicy vegetable sauce as it is now) you may as well put it in a curry.
You can probably tell from the nature of my ingredients that I’m not one of the world’s most industrious cooks, and that I have trouble with stock control and portion sizes, but I keep on trying. Cooking and writing are both similar in that you have to keep trying, and once in a while, possibly by accident, something good happens.
The photos tonight are chickpea and sweet potato curry and half-finished Hasselback potatoes. If I wait until it’s time to serve I’ll eat them before I remember to take the photos.
As usual, Sunday has seen the death of many good intentions. I was going to make vegetable soup for lunch, but we got up late and Julia made brunch, so we didn’t need lunch. We had crumpets instead of lunch, plus a slice of stollen. It was very nice, though in nutritional terms it may not quite have been what the doctor ordered.
She is out for a Christmas dinner with friends from a previous job while I cook myself a lonely meal and cook the soup ready for tomorrow night, when we will eat it with a sandwich and croutons. Oh yes, we are going to be sophisticated. Even more so when I reveal the croutons will be made from a very stale piece of sourdough. I really sound like a foodie rather than a man who can’t manage his pantry properly, don’t I? In an ideal world I wouldn’t have a load of wrinkly root veg and a quarter loaf of inedible bread.
The soup is very like the vegetable stew we had last week, though the ingredients are slightly more wrinkled and I’ve used one stock cube instead of two. We had dumplings with the stew, using freshly ground garlic seasoning. It was tasty, filling and virtuous, though I did get a lecture on my immaturity when I sniggered whilst complimenting her dumplings. It seems it is time I grew up.
That’s one of the nice things about being married to Julia. Despite all the evidence, she still thinks I’m capable of improvement. It’s heart-warming, but improbable. I’m 61, I’m set in my ways and this, I’m afraid, is as good as it’s going to get.
My alarm just went. My lonely meal is ready. It’s potato wedges, cheese and onion pasty and mushy peas – comfort food. I’m going to watch the Strictly Come Dancing results, shout at the judges then make tomorrow’s sandwiches.
This is not the life I envisaged when I was a young man. There were more yachts, steaks and butlers in my vision of my future. Fortunately I’m very fond of mushy peas.
I woke at 7.00, ascertained that I was on holiday, and went back to sleep until 8.30. I could get used to being retired, if this is what it is like. On the other hand, sleeping in does tend to blur the lines between life and death, and I’d like to preserve that line as I get older.
Maybe all those pensioners who clutter up the blood testing department at City Hospital need to get there at 6.30 to prove they are still alive.
Yesterday we emptied the space under the stairs so the electricians could install a Protective Multiple Earth. No, me neither…
Today we looked at the heap of detritus that had built up and decided to load it straight in the back of the car and deliver it directly to a charity shop.
It wasn’t actually that direct as we went for breakfast at McDonald’s first then picked up a prescription. Then we went to dump the detritus, or donate our surplus kitchen equipment. It definitely depends on your point of view.
After that we went to a shopping outlet to look for Christmas inspiration, but ended up buying books.
Finally we went for soup at Denby Pottery. We tried to buy pottery but there wasn’t anything we wanted. I had vegetable and fizzy orange soup. The vegetable was deliberate, the fizzy orange was because Julia didn’t think it was important to tell me she’d dropped the bottle on the way to the table.
While we were out we went round a garden centre, visited a bookshop (and bought no books!), saw a lot of marshes and ate fish and chips. I also found space for a syrup sponge and custard.
We saw seven Brimstones, a couple of whites and a Red Admiral. Julia has being seeing Brimstones down at the Mencap garden, so it looks like we could be in for a good Brimstone year.
Then we came home for the last of the homemade soup.
There was, of course, a bit more to it than that, but it’s not very interesting. It’s also just after 10pm and I have a lot to do in the next few hours so I’ll leave it here and take up the story later.
I have some major changes to discuss with you all.
The afternoon slipped past as smoothly as the morning, though it was arguably less productive. All I did in the afternoon was to eat lunch and take a trip to Sheffield.
Lunch was slightly disappointing, so I’m not going to review it, except to say that if we ever need to stop for food in Chesterfield again I will ignore Frankie and Benny’s and go to Harvester instead. You get more flavour at Harvester, and free salad. I say “free”, though I concede this may not be totally accurate.
They have a big wheel in Chesterfield at the moment. I’m sure it will be quite interesting to go on it and see the twisted spire close up if you can ignore the fact you are being taken for a trip in the sky in a device where costs and weight have been kept to a minimum. I really should have taken my camera, as it made an interesting sight.
We then carried on to Sheffield and dropped Number Two son off, along with two bags of healthy foodstuffs and the contents of my wallet. He’s been home for the weekend discussing his dissertation with Julia. He discussed the Rugby and the Superbowl with me. It’s probably for the best, as, though my grasp of sport is poor, it’s far better than my grasp of matters academic.
Tonight, being back to sensible eating, we will dine on soup. Julia has already prepared and packed the lunch salads for tomorrow. I foresee a dreary, though virtuous, few days.
I started off by delivering Julia into servitude at 8.30 this morning. She’s not fond of Thursdays as she has to rush across town at 4pm to get from one job to another before finally being allowed home at 8pm.
Then I went to Newark. It was cold, business was non-existent and the tale of the last two weeks was one of cold, snow and poverty. After an exchange of cards, a cup of tea and a laugh about old times (there’s nothing to laugh about at the moment) I went browsing in W H Smiths looking for writing paper. I didn’t find any. The notes in my Christmas cards will, as a result, be written on paper torn from a spiral-bound notebook. To be fair, this is a more accurate reflection of me than smart writing paper.
A trip round Wilkos netted a tin of Vaseline lip-care products for Julia, a bucket of fat balls for the birds for £4 and a chicken and stuffing sandwich for £1. Yes, I know, I’m not supposed to be eating bread. However, as I’d already treated my self to a sausage and onion cob for breakfast I didn’t think a chicken sandwich was going to do too much extra damage, either to my waistline or my digestion.
From there it was a quick trip to the doctor to put in some prescription requests and on to TESCO for healthy veg and new gloves.
Resisting the urge to go home I visited the shop to drop off Christmas cards to my new colleagues (I’m such a creep) and helped with the delivery of two new cabinets for the new shop. It’s starting to take shape.
I then went home, supposedly to post on the blog but actually to engage in a variety of displacement activities, including sleeping in front of the TV, watching TV, checking ebay, picking Julia up from work, browsing the internet, writing notes to go in Christmas cards and warming up soup. I was tempted to say “cooking” but I’m pretty sure preparing soup and a sandwich isn’t cooking. We normally have something more substantial but after a day that saw us both deviating from our diets we thought we’d cut back a bit.
I even managed to do a bit of reading, having bought the Kindle edition of Maya and the Book of Everything by Laurie Graves. It’s going quite well so far. We’re right into the action and moving along nicely and there’s no boring stuff about chivalry or whales. She is therefore already ahead of Cervantes and Melville in my estimation. On the minus side there’s a definite lack of talking animals, though Sir John Oldcastle is about to make an appearance. I like Sir John.